first published in Arthur No. 12 (September, 2004)
Exploring the Voids of All Known Undergrounds
by Byron Coley and Thurston Moore
The last coupla days a lotta time has been spent listening to the three CDs that Acute Records has released to document the history of one of the French underground’s great legacies of raunch. The first installment is Anarchy in Paris! by METAL URBAIN. Formed in 1976, these guys were the true inventors of drum-box punk, combining overloaded synth, distorted punk guitar and scabrous vocals (imagine the early Stranglers singing gutteral French) into a truly head-melting mix. They released their own first single, then had the first release on the Rough Trade label (“Paris Maquis” is still one of my fave songs ever). The fates were really against them, however, and their popularity never really matched their genius. The Anarchy CD is really well programmed and annotated, and it’s really one of the essentials for any good punk rock library.
When Metal Urbain finally exploded, leader Eric Debris continued the story in two divergent directions. The first was a band that grew more or less organically out of Metal Urbain’s corpse, called METAL BOYS. There is a lost early session by the band, recorded by Hawkwind’s Bob Calvert, and while I’d love to hear that, the stuff on Tokio Airport is satisfying in its own way. The sound of this stuff is mostly very different from the earlier band. The bulk of the recorded material features vocals by an Anglophone named China, whose words are buoyed by a variety of somewhat subversive new wave tropes. And some of it is a little too lightweight to really engage my head, but there are still lots of great moments, some of them very unexpected (as in the virtual Sun Ra tribute, “Outer Space”). And, truly, the more I listen to this, the more acclimated (addicted?) I become to China’s emotionally flat vocals. They really reek of early ‘80s Rough Trade gal dub action, and that’s a flavor that I can never get enough of. Combined with the sort of kilter-less low-key electronics here (like low blood sugar versions of SPK, Clock DVA, the cruder end of BEF, etc.), it sucks you in real sweetly. Unfortunately, Metal Boys remained an even more obscure project than the original had. But Tokio collects pretty much everything you’d want to hear, and if you’ve heard Anarchy, I guarantee you’ll be intrigued as hell!
Debris’ solo project, committed in parallel to Metal Boys, was DR. MIX AND THE REMIX. Wall of Noise shows this stuff (which eventually expanded into an actual band) to be much more aggressive and strange than Metal Boys. Much of the material is covers of older songs—The Stooges’ “No Fun,” the Velvets’ “Sister Ray,” the Troggs’ “I Can’t Control Myself,” etc. But these songs are highly devolved, dub-informed scuzzed-out versions of the originals. At times it sounds a bit like those early Suicide tracks that Blast First released a few years ago, but you wouldn’t really mistake it for anyone except Doctor Mix. At any rate, this trilogy is pretty goddamn ripe. So give it a sniff. You’ll be glad you did.
A friend in England sent me a copy of the latest book by his country’s hardest-hitting polymath, BILLY CHILDISH. The book’s called Handing the Loaded Revolver to the Enemy (Aquarium Gallery) and celebrates a recent show of Billy’s paintings, which are more or less “about” the work of Vincent Van Gogh. They’re totally great color reproductions of Billy’s copies of some of Van Gogh’s work, along with some poetry inspired by it, and a set of manifestos about the nature and intent of art. As always, Childish has created something of great beauty and power. Get behind him. Now.
Since relocating from the hot tar of New York to the wind-blown mountains of southern Vermont, Matt Valentine and Erika Elder have retooled their muses in a variety of ways. Some of that transubstantiation can be heard on the incredible new 2LP set by their (former?) band, TOWER RECORDINGS. The Futuristic Folk of the Tower Recordings Vol. 1 & 2 (Time-Lag Records) is a reissue of two CDRs that Matt and Erika originally put out through their Child of Microtones imprint. And the sessions reprised here are great. Tower Recordings were an awesome group, capable of sweat-free motion from experimental improv to careful folk plucking to absolute psychedelic form-disasterism. They consistently moved with an ease that most bands only show when they’re dodging the bill at a restaurant. The line-up here is comprised of the old regulars, like Tim Barnes, PG Six, etc. plus such exciting fellow travelers as Joshua Burkett and Sara Lubelski. Packed in a typically nice Time-Lag cover, this is a sweet poke from an unknown ridge.
If you ever wondered about the minutae of the New England Underground, you could do much worse than to get the debut issue of SMALLFLOWERS PRESS. This is a solo newsprint mag that contains incredibly detailed interviews with Dredd Foole, Chris Corsano, and all the countless members of Sunburned Hand of the Man. It’s a massive 76-page read, and probably a tough slog if you’re not somewhat besotted by this stuff, but if you are, well, sheesh, this one’s for you.
While there is controversy in some circles regarding the “chops” of ARTHUR DOYLE, those folks who understand that life’s for the living and death’s for the dead have no gripe with the guy. It is true that Doyle no longer manifests the saxophonic lung rushery that was so abundantly evident on Alabama Feeling, but he is still a performer rich with ghosts and power and raw poetry. Doyle’s newest LP is Your Spirit Is Calling (Qbico), a duo session with the always-stellar percussionist, Hamid Drake. Recorded in Milan in 2003, the music has some similarities to the work that Doyle did with his Electro-Accoustic Ensemble, but it is more focused, less lumpy, and far more rooted in the jazz tradition than that crazy shit ever was. Still, Doyle revisits some of the Ensemble’s themes, playing with a bit more formal rigor than he has for a while. His tone still splutters and veers like a taxi cab falling off a cliff, but there’s in an underlying sense of fundamentals that should make even the moldiest free jazz fig, shut the hell up! Ha! Anyone who doesn’t dig the flute/hand drum sequence, just doesn’t know how to dig. Go get ‘em, Arthur!
The proliferation of records, CDs, tapes and visual sundry from the Japanese contempo-psych energy compound of ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE is insanely draining. Each member of the troupe has his and/or her own bag and a spotlight is usually hovering somewhere above master hair rocker Kawabata Makoto. But as of NOW there has been a slight paradigm shift, with this recent offering from Eclipse Records by the other guitarist in Acid Mothers, HIROSHI HIGASHI. Guitar is not really what transcends Hiroshi to cosmo heights, it’s his feel and soul sense with synthesizer. It’s a sound device easily over-extended by any kid who sets fingers upon it, but Hiroshi has seriously attuned hisself to some kind of human smoke signals, coming into a virtual oneness with this instrument in the process. Solo 3 is as heavy and beautiful a solo synth piece as the initial renderings of ‘71/72 Tangerine Dream. Sublimely tripped out with a silkscreened fold over jacket designed by Plastic Crimewave and Min Song and hand-screened by SIWA records lord, Alan Sherry.
Issue #12 is out of Ed Pinsent’s SOUND PROJECTOR and, as is usually the case, it is crammed with reviews, interviews, and drawings. The way Ed organizes his mag is particularly well-suited to bathroom readings. He groups the pieces and reviews into clumps of the like-minded, and the results are very pleasing. Subjects this issue include legendary underground New York folk genius Peter Stampfel, master Bostonian improv-breather Greg Kelley, and Norwegian noise maestro Lasse Marhaug. A non-catholic mix for non-catholic readers. Also un-catholic as all get out is the debut issue of PUSH MY BUTTONS, a zine for and by online sex workers. It has poems, prose stuff & things like a list of the weirdest insults seen by young people (females, mostly, I think) who work their wiles on the web. Cool as hell.
Got a nice new LP by longtime masters of the post-form genre, DEERHOOF. Milk Man (Free Porcupine Society). The music this time is more lilting than you might expect. Indeed, the female vocals and the way they are set will surely make more than one genius imagine what might have happened if France Gall had gotten involved with one of Brigitte Fontaine’s bands, especially if they had collaborated on the soundtrack to a television commercial about dimple cream starring Anna Karenina. Of course Milk Man’s not as monolithic as all that, this is Deerhoof, after all. But the feel is hip-swinging and continental in a way that makes me breathe as though there’s a big bottle of cheese just around the next corner. MMMMMM!
This year began with a hairy-ass bang by all who were lucky enough to catch the cross-country tour of PRURIENT and KITES. We wrote about both these lads in Issue 5, but for all you newbies let it be known since then Load Records released a Kites LP called Royal Paint with the Metallic Gardener from the United States of America Helped into an Open Field by Women and Children and a split 12” by both Kites and Prurient (Load Split Series #4), which is a great starting off point for anyone interested in these freak babies, as both sides are remarkable examples of new American noise moves. Prurient is the solo howl of Dominick Fernow from Providence, Rhode Island. Unlike most snarling filth mongers reveling in the bowel splatter of noise action, Dominick is a rather clean-cut and polite gentleman with a gracious demeanor. But once behind his arsenal of audio pain machines he will nail your soul to the grave. The slaughter sound culture of Providence has always had an element of rock ‘n roll asskick to it and while Prurient recognizes this he may be the one townie who is most purist with his serious noise intent. His homebrew label Hospital Productions has been around for a few years and has released a number of harsh statements by a broiling slough of noise talents: Skin Crime, Richard Ramirez, Macronympha, Nuclear Pig Shit as well as one of the earlier tapes by Hair Police (who did a number of dates on the aforementioned tour). Kites, also from Providence, is the moniker by which young Chris Forbes extends his noise compositions to us lucky fucks. Kites music has a rather sweet episodic nature and tells a story that truly will suck you into a better world whether you like it or not.
Most mysterious NYC band this time around must be GANG GANG DANCE, whose untitled LP (Fusetron) is a totally whacked assemblage of sounds and anti-sounds. The bands roots are thickly intertwined with both Angelblood and Ssab Songs, which should give you some pretty good ideas about the nature of formal composition here. There are female vocals, percussives, and electric instruments, all sounding sorta treated and shot-to-hell, wobbling and wiggling like mice riding roman candles at Coney Island. There don’t seem to be “songs” as much as there seem to be transitions between place and mood and voice. This motion has swings that remind me of some imaginary UK underground aktion of the just post-Rough Trade era, but it’s really hard to untangle the specifics. Suffice to say, if you are one of those people to whom “coherent” is a synonym for “sissy,” you’ll get a hard ride off this LP.
Also, New Yorkish in nature, the second proper album by TUCK TUCK TUCK has arrived. Called The Story of Tuck Tuck Tuck (Skul), it’s a bit more streamlined than the first one. Jandekian aces get pulled from every available sleeve, and the sound is as diffuse as the emotions. As in life, everything here can sound totally lost (even the instrumental bits). And that raises the human stakes to incredible heights at times when you didn’t even realize you were betting. The production sound is pretty mammal-friendly too—a warm sound, like paper tearing in the next room, pervades everything. And it suits the words and the plucked guitar to a goddamn T. Some sections have a sustain that makes me think a little of Dredd Foole’s live shows, but I won’t force the comparison. Okay?
New collection’s out of KAZ’s great Underworld strip. This volume’s entitled My Little Funny (Fantagraphics), and it shows that Kaz has totally mastered the four panel fucked up gag strip. Populated with an ever-expanding cast of hideous characters, the strips writhe with lotsa crude humor, scat jokes galore, and the ugliest faces you’ll see in a month of Sundays. Now that’s good reading!
The bones of the Finnish underground tribal-folk scene are thick with the fat of elk. And Jan Anderzen seems to be a guy who is often found swimming in the marrow of these projects, from Kemialliset Ystävät to Avarus and onward. THE ANAKSIMANDROS is another of his splendidly shambolic concerns, and their album, River of Finland (Eclipse) will make you shout “hair boys versus shirt boys!” faster than a skunk can whistle the opening bars to Holst’s “Jupiter.” The instrumentation is all organic and acoustic, the vibe is pure smoke, mirror & fringe, and you can almost fell the leaves and twigs snapping under everyone’s bare feet as they wander through the starlight.
Be seeing you!
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